Grunts, boops, chatter and squeaks – fish are noisy creatures

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Though they lack some of the melodic qualities of birds or whales, there are nearly 1,000 species of fish that use sounds to communicate, and possibly many more.

However, despite nearly 150 years of contemporary scientific research into fish noise, there has not been a global inventory of fish species known to make noise. Until now. Fish are one of the largest groups of noisy vertebrates, with speculated noisy abilities in thousands of the world’s 34,000 fish species.

Our research team, led by Audrey Looby, conducted a systematic review examining nearly 3,000 references. We extracted data from more than 800 different studies to find that 989 species of fish have been shown to make active sounds around the world. We used our insights to create fish soundsan online database cataloging fish sounds.

Wait, fish make noise?

While the sound production of fish may not be as universally recognized as that of birds, frogs, bats, or whales, people have known that fish can make sounds for a very long time. The noise production of fish and the possible hearing of fish were discussed by Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago. And when you look at the common names of many fish – such as grunts, croaks and drums – it’s clear that fishermen have long known their sounds too.

A BBC Earth report on the sound of fish.

Fish also have a wide variety of Mechanisms for their sound production. Instead of vocal cords, fish may have adapted bone structures that they can rub or click together, while others use their swim bladder like a drum. Some fish even make noise by expelling air from their hindquarters. Yes, communication via “fish fart.”

Fish can use sounds to convey information reproduction, their territory or their food. Because sound travels faster in water than in air, fish can Hear signals over greater distancesand faster than they could by sight, smell, or taste.

Listen to the for some examples complex calls of the Bocon toadfishthe Saberfish ticks and a Choir of freshwater drums.

Thanks to our review, we are now able to detail which and how many fish species have been shown to use sound to communicate. Active soniferous—sound-making—fish have been found in marine, freshwater, and brackish water (slightly salty, such as where rivers meet salt water) environments in almost every region of the world. They were also found throughout the taxonomic fish treein 133 of the 549 fish families.

hear fish

Many other animals including birds, dolphins and crabs can eavesdrop on fish sounds to eat, avoid being eaten, and navigate to suitable habitats.

Underwater animals aren’t the only ones who can listen to the sounds of fish. We used a remote sensing technique called passive acoustics to record underwater sounds and learn more about fish and their environment.

Fish noises take some getting used to identify invasive species, monitor spawning and identify important habitats. Fish chewing sounds have even been used in aquaculture to optimize feeding.

There is also a growing body of evidence that human activities are carried out noise pollution, habitat destruction and climate change impair fish’s ability to produce and hear critical sounds for their reproduction and survival. This has potentially adverse effects on entire populations or communities of fish.

FishSounds uses our global overview of soniferous fish as a framework and makes the data we collect available to other researchers and anyone else interested in aquatic ecosystems. Users can search by species, record, or study information. We also provide information about our data and links to other relevant websites.

Although fish don’t have vocal cords, they make sounds to communicate.
(Kieran Cox), author provided

We are also compiling recordings of the many sounds fish make, with 239 recordings currently available and many more to come.

growing resource

We plan to expand our data offering and functionality, including regularly updating our database to include new research and records, implementing a form submission system that allows users to upload audio files of fish sounds, and creating interactive searches that allow users to trend trends in the Area can visualize data.

FishSounds also works with other data stores and efforts, including FishBaseas well as a contribution to a global library of biological underwater sounds.

Given the lack of published research on sound production for more than 95 percent of fish species, we hope to expand on what we already know and support future work on the wonderful world of fish sounds.

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